There are important differences between mobile network operators (MNOs), mobile virtual network enablers (MVNEs), and mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) that tech leaders must be aware of before choosing a specific network topology and building or acquiring the infrastructure needed to meet business needs. Here we talk about these differences and how to determine which option is right for you.

In today’s global, tech-driven marketplace, performant and cost-effective networking and telecommunications services are critical to business success. Because of the high capital and resource costs associated with setting up, running, and maintaining the platforms and systems required to enjoy connectivity, however, it often makes financial and operational sense to outsource certain networking functions to specialized players who can keep costs low while delivering high-quality services.

Services and Functions of MNOs, MVNEs, and MVNOs

Three broad categories of networking and connectivity providers are MNOs, MVNEs, and MVNOs, each of which is an important player in the mobile/cellular connectivity space but uses a different tech stack and delivers different types of services from the others. Below is a brief overview of each.

Mobile Network Operators (MNOs)

MNOs are interchangeably referred to as wireless service providers or wireless carriers. They are cellular companies or mobile network carriers that provide wireless communications services. They own or control the network infrastructure, bandwidth/spectrum, billing, client services, marketing, and related functions necessary to deliver connectivity solutions to end-users. They deal with base stations and physical cells and towers and provide 4G and/or 5G LTE connectivity.

Mobile Virtual Network Enablers (MVNEs)

MVNEs can be thought of as the intermediaries that make it easier for MVNOs to acquire from MNOs the networking capabilities needed to provide services to end-users. By using the services of an MVNE, MVNOs can offer customized, branded services to their own customers. They deal with network routing, user databases, data, voice, messaging, SIM management, over the air (OTA) connectivity, and can help manage handsets, headsets, supply chain, logistics, procurement, contracts, hiring, marketing, and more.

Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs)

MVNOs are companies that deliver wireless communications services to customers using infrastructure owned by another entity. They are smaller carriers that lease coverage and bandwidth capabilities from MNOs and resell them as customized offerings. They enter into business agreements with mobile network operators to enjoy access to network services at wholesale rates and then sell services downstream at retail prices. MVNOs may have their own support, billing, marketing, and sales teams, or they may use the services of an MVNE. They deal with distribution, go-to-market strategies, and analytics.

MNOs vs. MVNEs: What Are the Differences?

Here are a few key characteristics of MNOs and MVNEs, based on which smaller businesses or MVNOs can decide whether to partner with one or the other for their connectivity needs.

MNO Characteristics

MNOs generate revenue by providing branded services to end-users directly, but they also typically sell network services (from basic connectivity to administration, marketing, billing, customer care, and related operational services) at discounted wholesale rates to MVNOs.

They are the backbone of the mobile/cellular services space and are the most infrastructure-intensive players when it comes to networking and connectivity. They must own or have authorized access to the radio spectrum (via a license from a regulatory or government body) over which connectivity services are provided.

In addition to spectrum ownership or control, MNOs must own or control the infrastructure required to provide connectivity services to users over the licensed spectrum it controls.

MNOs also typically have the billing, customer care, sales, and engineering operations required to provide connectivity services, although they can outsource these functions and still technically be considered an MNO.

MVNE Characteristics

If MNOs can be thought of as doing the backend heavy lifting involved in provisioning connectivity to customers, MVNEs are more focused on the implementation, management, and planning aspects of mobile services. This can include billing, customer relationship management, SIM provisioning, and providing value-added services.

MVNEs allow MVNOs to outsource MNO integrations to the MVNE, in addition to the business, technical, and operational aspects of providing cellular and connectivity services. As such, MVNEs must be able to work with upstream entities, such as MNOs, as well as downstream entities, such as MVNOs and customers.

Related: Is Metered Internet Right for You?

Choosing Between an MNO and an MVNE

How can businesses make smart decisions when it comes to choosing between partnering with an MNO or an MVNE?

Let’s explore the benefits of both.

Partnering with an MVNE

By partnering with an MVNE, you can enjoy lower upfront capital expenses, lower airtime costs thanks to economies of scale, specialized management for many disparate mobile operations and functions, and the ability to leverage the experience of the MVNE when dealing with smaller downstream MVNOs and large, upstream MNOs.

Working with an MVNE can shorten your time to market and provide you with instant access to working SIM cards and the SaaS services you need to provide complete, end-to-end connectivity services to your customers.

Partnering with an MNO

It is safe to say that the only instance in which a business or MVNO should partner with an MNO over an MVNE is if the business or MVNO in question has enough subscribers (usually in the hundreds of thousands) to achieve the volume savings possible by going directly to an MNO, or if the business or MVNO in question already has the telecom infrastructure and operational platforms – such as bill management and CRM systems – in place in order to efficiently deliver high-quality services to end-users.

Not everyone can be an MNO like Verizon or AT&T, but anyone can enter the mobile connectivity space by leasing resources and solutions from MNOs and selling custom, targeted services in the market. MVNEs are the enablers that operate between both entities. They have the expertise and technical know-how required to work with large telecom companies and manage everything from billing, network maintenance, administration, and operational support for their MVNO clients.

Sentinel: The Kajeet MVNE

Sentinel, an enterprise-grade MVNE from Kajeet, allows you to connect and control multiple networks across all your devices, all on one platform. Sentinel makes it easy to monitor real-time data consumption, device status, SIM connectivity, and network activity.

It provides multi-carrier flexibility, an advanced management platform, and API integrations that can help your projects and devices scale from dozens to millions without compromising network performance or security.

Whether you are connecting students in a distance learning environment or sensors in an IoT application, Sentinel makes it easy to connect, control, and deploy your solutions.

Related: 4 Ways the Kajeet Sentinel® Platform Makes Your Life Easier

It can quickly become difficult to manage and maintain the technical integrations required by large MNOs. A viable alternative is to work with an experienced MVNE partner that can help you get up and running with a performant, custom buildout designed for your unique needs.

To learn about how Kajeet’s MVNE solution can help your business enjoy fast, seamless connectivity, please reach out to one of our Solutions Specialists at